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A Parable

Chapter 3


Part One : Shariputra's predicament

Thereupon, Shariputra, with joyful enthusiasm, rose, placed his palms together, gazed reverently at the World Honored One’s face and said to the Buddha, “Now, having heard this sound of Dharma from the World Honored One, my heart rejoices and I have obtained what I never had before.”

“What is the reason? In the past, I heard a Dharma such as this from the Buddha, and saw the Bodhisattvas receive predictions of Buddhahood, but we had no part in this matter. I was deeply hurt that I had lost the limitless knowledge and vision of the Thus Come One.”

“World Honored One, when I used to dwell alone in mountain forests, at the foot of trees, whether sitting or walking, I continually had this thought, “We all identically enter into the Dharma-nature, why has the Thus Come One shown us deliverance by means of the Small Vehicle Dharma? We are at fault, not the World Honored One.”

“What is the reason? If we had waited for the lecture on the cause of realizing anuttarasamyaksambodhi, we would certainly have been delivered by means of the Great Vehicle Dharma. But we did not understand that expedient devices are spoken in accord with what is appropriate. Therefore, when we first heard the Buddhadharma, upon encountering it, we immediately believed, accepted, and considered it, and attained realization.”

“World Honored One, from of old, I have, day and night, continually reproached myself. Now, from the Buddha, I have heard what I never heard before, this Dharma which has never been before, and all my doubts have been severed. My body and mind are blissful, and I am at peace.”

“Today, indeed, I know that I am a true disciple of the Buddha, born from the Buddha’s mouth, transformed from the Dharma; I have obtained a share of the Buddhadharma”

At that time, Shariputra, wishing to restate this meaning, spoke verses, saying:

Hearing this Dharma sound,
I gained what I never had;
My heart is filled with great joy,
The net of doubts has been cast aside .

From of old, favored with the Buddha’s teaching,
I had never lost the Greater Vehicle.
The Buddha’s sound is extremely rare,
And can rid beings of their woes.
I have already attained to the end of outflows,
Yet hearing it my woes also are dispelled.

As I dwelt in the mountain valleys,
Sometimes at the foot of trees,
Whether sitting or walking,
I constantly thought upon this topic:

“Ah,” I cried in bitter self-reproach,
“Why have I deceived myself?
We, too, are the Buddha’s disciples,
And equally enter the non-outflow Dharma;
Yet, in the future, we shall not be able
To proclaim the Unsurpassed Path.

The Golden Color, the Thirty-two,
The Ten Powers and all the Liberations
Are together in a single Dharma,
But I have not attained these things.

The Eighty Wondrous Hallmarks,
The Eighteen Unshared Dharmas--
Such qualities of virtue--
I have missed them, every one.”

When I used to walk alone,
I would see the Buddha in the Great Assembly,
His fame filling the ten directions,
Vastly benefiting all beings.
I felt I had lost this benefit,
And had but cheated myself.

Constantly, both day and night,
I thought upon this matter,
And wished to ask the World Honored One
Whether or not I had lost it.

I often saw the World Honored One
Praising all the Bodhisattvas,
And so it was, by day and night,
I pondered on matters such as these.

Now I hear the Buddha's sound,
Opportunely speaking that Dharma
Which is without outflows--hard to conceive of--
And leads living beings to the Bodhimanda.

Once, I was attached to deviant views,
And was a teacher of the Brahmins.
The World Honored One knew my heart,
Pulled out the deviant, and taught me Nirvana.

I rid myself of deviant views,
And realized the Dharma of emptiness.
Then, I said to myself
That I had arrived at Quiescence.

But now, at last, I realize
It is not real Quiescence.
For when I become a Buddha,
Complete with the Thirty-two Marks,
Revered by gods, humans, and yaksha hordes,
Dragons, spirits, and others,
Only then will I be able to say,
“This is eternal Quiescence without residue.”
The Buddha, in the Great Assembly,
Has said, I shall become a Buddha.
Hearing such a Dharma sound,
All my doubts have been dispelled.

When I first heard the Buddha speak,
My heart was filled with great fear and doubt:
“Is this not Mara disguised as the Buddha,
Come to disturb and confuse my heart?”

The Buddha, by means of various conditions,
Analogies, and ingenious speech,
Makes one's heart as calm as the sea.
Hearing him, the net of my doubts was rent.

The Buddha says that in the past,
The limitless Buddhas, now extinct,
Dwelling in the use of expedients,
Also spoke this Dharma--each of them.

The Buddhas of the present and future,
Their numbers without limit,
Also used expedients
To expound Dharma such as this.
Just as now, the World Honored One,
From birth until his leaving home,
His attaining the Way and turning the Dharma wheel,
Also speaks by means of expedients.

The World Honored One speaks of the real Path.
The evil one does no such thing;
Hence, I know for certain
This is not the demon posing as the Buddha.
Because I had fallen into a net of doubts,
I said it was the doings of the demon.

Hearing the Buddha's compliant voice,
Profound, far-reaching, subtle and fine
Proclaiming wide the clear, pure Dharma,
Great is the joy within my heart.
My doubts are forever ended,
As in Real Wisdom I stand firm.

I am certain to become a Buddha,
Revered by gods and humans.
I shall turn the Unsurpassed Wheel of Dharma,
To teach and transform Bodhisattvas.

Part Two : Shariputra's Prediction

At that time, the Buddha told Shariputra, “I, now, amidst the great assembly of gods, humans, Shramanas, Brahmins, and others, declare that in the distant past, in the presence of twenty thousand kotis of Buddhas, for the sake of the Unsurpassed Way, I have constantly taught and transformed you. You, throughout the long night, have followed me and received my instructions. I have used expedient devices to guide you to be born within my Dharma.”

“Shariputra, in the past, I taught you to resolve yourself on the Buddha Way, but you have completely forgotten this, and so you say of yourself that you have already attained quiescence.

“Now, again, wishing you to recall the path you have practiced according to your past vows, I, for the sake of the Hearers, speak this Great Vehicle Sutra by the name of The Wonderful Dharma Lotus Flower, a Dharma for instructing Bodhisattvas of whom the Buddhas are protective and mindful.”

“Shariputra, in a future age, after limitless and boundless, inconceivable eons, having made offerings to some thousands of myriads of kotis of Buddhas, having reverently upheld the Proper Dharma, and having perfected the Path practiced by the Bodhisattvas, you shall become a Buddha by the name of Flower Light Thus Come One, One Worthy of Offerings, One of Proper and Universal Knowledge, One Whose Understanding and Conduct Are Complete, a Well-gone One Who Understands the World, an Unsurpassed Knight, a Taming and Regulating Hero, a Teacher of Gods and Humans, a Buddha, a World Honored One.”

“His country shall be called ‘Apart From Filth.’ Its ground will be level, pure and adorned, tranquil, and prosperous, and abounding with gods. It shall have lapis lazuli for soil and eight intersecting roads bordered with golden cords, and by which shall stand rows of trees made of the seven treasures constantly blooming and bearing fruit.”

“The Thus Come One Flower Light will also teach and transform living beings by means of the Three Vehicles. Shariputra, when this Buddha comes into the world, although it will not be an evil age, because of his past vows, he shall teach the Dharma of Three Vehicles.”

“That eon will be called ‘Adorned With Great Jewels.’ Why will it be called ‘Adorned With Great Jewels’? Because in that land, Bodhisattvas will be considered great jewels.”

“These Bodhisattvas will be limitless, boundless, and inconceivable in number, beyond the reach of calculation or analogy. Without the power of the Buddha's wisdom, no one could know their number.”

“When they wish to walk, jeweled flowers will spring up beneath their feet. These Bodhisattvas will not be those who have just brought forth the resolve. They will have planted the roots of virtue for a long time, and in the presence of limitless hundreds of thousands of myriads of kotis of Buddhas purely cultivated Brahman conduct, constantly receiving the Buddhas’ praise, constantly cultivating the Buddha’s wisdom, and complete with great spiritual penetrations, they will be well-versed in all the doors of Dharma, straightforward, ingenuous, and resolute. Bodhisattvas such as these will fill that country.”

“Shariputra, the life span of the Buddha Flower Light will be twelve small eons, not counting the time during which, as a prince, he will not yet have become a Buddha. The life spans of the people in that country will be eight small eons.”

“After twelve small eons, the Thus Come One Flower Light will confer upon the Bodhisattva Solid Fullness a prediction of anuttarasamyaksambodhi, and announce to the Bhikshus, ‘The Bodhisattva Solid Fullness shall next become a Buddha by the name of Flowery Feet Peacefully Walking, Tathagata, Arhat, Samyaksambuddha. His Buddha-country will be of like character.’”

“Shariputra, when the Buddha Flower Light has passed into quiescence, the Proper Dharma Age shall dwell in the world for thirty-two small eons. The Dharma Image Age shall dwell in the world also for thirty-two small eons.”

At that time, the World Honored One, wishing to restate this meaning, spoke verses, saying,

Shariputra, in a future age,
Shall become a Buddha, honored and all-wise,
By the name of Flower Light,
Who will save limitless multitudes.

Having made offerings to countless Buddhas,
And having perfected the Bodhisattva conduct,
The Ten Powers and other meritorious qualities,
He shall certify to the Unsurpassed Way.

When limitless eons have passed,
There shall be an eon named “Adorned with Great Jewels,”
And a world by name of “Apart from Filth,”
Being pure and without flaw,
With lapis lazuli as its ground,
And its roads bordered with golden cords,
With multicolored trees made of seven treasures,
Which constantly bloom and bear fruit.

The Bodhisattvas in that land,
Will be always firm in mindfulness,
With spiritual penetrations and paramitas ,
All thoroughly perfected.
In the presence of countless Buddhas,
They will have well-learned the Bodhisattva Way .

Great Knights such as these
Shall have been transformed by the Buddha Flower Light .
That Buddha, when still a prince,
Shall renounce his land and worldly glory,
And in his final body,
Leave home to realize the Buddha Way.

The Buddha Flower Light shall dwell in the world
For a life span of twelve small eons.
The people of his land
Shall live for eight small eons.

When that Buddha has passed into quiescence,
The Proper Dharma shall remain in the world
For thirty-two small eons,
Widely saving living beings.

When the Proper Dharma has vanished,
The Dharma Image shall remain for thirty-two.
The sharira shall be distributed widely,
For the offerings of gods and humans.

The deeds of the Buddha Flower Light,
Shall be such as these.
That Sagely Honored One, Twice Complete,
Shall be supreme and beyond compare.
And he is just you, yourself!
It is fitting that you do rejoice.

Part Three : The Parable

At that time, the Four-fold Assembly of Bhikshus, Bhikshunis, Upasakas, and Upasikas, as well as the great multitude of yakshas, gandharvas, asuras, garudas, kinnaras, mahoragas, and so forth, seeing Shariputra, in the presence of the Buddha, receive a prediction for anuttarasamyaksambodhi, greatly rejoiced in their hearts and leapt for unbounded joy.

Each removed his upper garment and presented it as an offering to the Buddha. Shakro Devanam Indrah and the Brahma Heaven King, together with countless gods, also made offerings to the Buddha of heavenly wonderful garments, heavenly mandarava flowers and mahamandarava flowers, and so forth.

The heavenly garments they tossed aloft remained in empty space and whirled around. Then, all at once, in empty space hundreds of thousands of myriads of kinds of heavenly music began to play, and there fell a rain of heavenly flowers.

As they uttered these words, “Long ago in Varanashi, the Buddha first turned the Wheel of Dharma. Now, he turns again that unsurpassed, magnificent Dharma -wheel.”

At that time, all the gods, wishing to restate this meaning, spoke the following verse:

Long ago in Varanashi,
You turned the Dharma-wheel of Four Truths,
Discriminatingly speaking of the Dharmas,
The production and extinction of Five Heaps.

Now, again, you turn that wondrous,
Unsurpassed, great Wheel of Dharma.
This Dharma is deep and recondite,
And few are those who can believe it .

We from of old,
Have often heard the World Honored One speak,
But never have we heard such Dharma,
So deep, wondrous, and supreme.

The World Honored One has spoken the Dharma,
And we rejoice accordingly,
As the greatly wise Shariputra
Now receives the Honored One's prediction.

We, too, are like this,
And will surely become Buddhas,
Throughout all the worlds,
Most honored and supreme.

The Buddha's Way is inconceivable,
Taught expediently according to what is fitting.
May all of our blessed karma,
In this life and in lives gone by,
And the merit and virtue gained from seeing the Buddha,
Be dedicated to the Buddha Way.

At that time, Shariputra spoke to the Buddha, saying, “World Honored One, I now have no further regret, having received from the Buddha a prediction for Annutarasamyaksambodhi. But the twelve hundred whose hearts have attained self-mastery, and who formerly dwelt in the Stage of Study, were constantly taught by the Buddha who said, ‘My Dharma can enable one to separate from birth, old age, sickness, and death and attain to Ultimate Nirvana.’

Both Those Who Study and Those Beyond Study alike have separated from the View of Self, the Views of Existence and Non-existence, and so forth, and claim that they have attained Nirvana. Yet now, hearing from the World Honored One that which they have never heard before, they have all fallen into doubt and delusion. Good indeed, World Honored One, I hope that you would, for the sake of the Four-fold Assembly, speak of these causes and conditions, to free them of their doubts and regrets.”

At that time, the Buddha told Shariputra, “Have I not said before that all Buddhas, World Honored Ones, speak the Dharma by means of various causes and conditions, parables, phrases, and expedient devices, all for the sake of Anuttarasamyaksambodhi? All of these teachings are for the sake of transforming Bodhisattvas. However, Shariputra, I shall now again make use of a parable in order to further clarify the principle, for all those who are wise gain understanding through parables.”

“Shariputra, suppose that in a country, a city, or a village, there is a great Elder, aged and worn, of limitless wealth, possessing many fields, houses, and servants.”

“His house is spacious and large, having only one door but with a great many people--one hundred, two hundred, even five hundred of them--dwelling within it.”

“Its halls and chambers are decaying and old; its walls are crumbling. The pillars are rotting at their bases; the beams and ridgepoles are toppling dangerously.”

“All at once, throughout the house, a fire breaks out, setting the house ablaze.”

“The Elder’s sons, ten, twenty, even thirty of them are inside the house.”

“The Elder, seeing the fire arise from the four sides, is greatly alarmed and makes the following reflection: ‘Although I have been able to escape safely through this burning doorway, all my children remain inside the burning house, happily attached to their amusement, unaware, unknowing, not alarmed and not afraid. The fire presses upon them and the pain will sear them, but at heart they do not mind it, nor have they any thought to escape.”

“Shariputra, the Elder then reflects, ‘My body and arms are strong. I might gather them into a cloth pouch or onto a table and take them from the house.’ He further reflects, ‘This house has only one door and it is narrow and small. My sons are young and immature and as yet know nothing. Attached to their place of play, they may fall and be burnt in the fire.’”

“ ‘I must tell them of this frightful matter, that the house has caught fire, and they must hurry and come out so as not to be burned.’ So thinking, he speaks to his sons, saying, ‘Come out, all of you quickly!’ Although the father, in his pity, induces them with good words, still all the sons are happily attached to their amusements and play and refuse to believe him. They are not frightened or afraid and have no intention of leaving. What is more, they do not know what is meant by fire, what is meant by house or what is meant by being lost. They merely run from east to west in play, staring at their father.”

“Then, the Elder has this thought, ‘The house is already ablaze with a great fire. If my sons and I do not get out in time, we certainly shall be burned. I shall now devise an expedient device so that my sons can avoid this disaster.’”

“The father, knowing both the predispositions of his sons and the preferences each has for various precious toys and unusual playthings to which they happily responded, speaks to them, saying, ‘The things you will love to play with are rare and hard to get. If you do not take them, you will certainly regret it later. Things such as these: a variety of sheep carts, deer carts, and ox carts, are now outside the door for you to play with. All of you should quickly come out of this burning house and I shall give you whatever you want.’”

“Then the children, hearing their father speak of these precious playthings which suited their wishes exactly, eagerly push and shove one another aside in a mad scramble, all fighting to get out of the burning house.”

“At that time, the Elder, seeing that all his sons had gotten out safely and were seated on the ground at the crossroads, is without further obstruction; his mind is at peace and he is filled with joy.”

“Then the children all speak to their father, saying, ‘Father, the fine playthings you promised us a while ago, the sheep carts, the deer carts, and the ox carts, please give them to us now.’”

“O Shariputra, at that time, the Elder gives to all of his sons equally great carts.”

“The cart is high and wide, adorned with a multitude of intertwining jewels, surrounded by railings, and hung with bells on its four sides. Further, it is covered with canopies, adorned with various rare and precious jewels, strung with jeweled cords and hung with flowered tassels. The cart is heaped with beautiful mats and set about with rosy cushions. It is yoked to an ox, plump and white and of fine appearance, of great muscular strength, that walks with even tread, as fleet as the wind, having also many servants who follow and guard it.”

“And why is this? That great Elder has limitless wealth and all manner of storehouses full to overflowing.”

“So he reflects thus: ‘My possessions are boundless. I should not give my children small or inferior carts. All of these youngsters are my children whom I love without partiality. Having such great carts made of the seven jewels, infinite in number, I should give them to each one equally. Why? If I gave them to an entire country, they would not run short; how much the less if I gave them to my children!”

“Meanwhile, all of the children are riding around on the great carts, having gotten what they never expected to have, beyond their original hopes.”

“Shariputra, what do you think? When that Elder gives equally to all of his children the great jeweled carriages, is he guilty of falsehood or not?”

Shariputra replied, “No, World Honored One. The Elder is not guilty of falsehood, for he has only enabled his children to avoid the calamity of fire, and has thereby saved their lives. Why is this? In saving their lives, he has already given them a fine plaything. How much the more so his setting up of expedients to save them from the burning house.”

“World Honored One, if that Elder had not given them even so much as a single small cart, he still would not have been speaking falsely. Why? Because the Elder previously had this thought, ‘I will use expedients to lead my children out.’ For this reason, he is not guilty of falsehood. He is even less guilty since, knowing his own wealth to be limitless and wishing to benefit all his children, he gives to them equally great carts.”

The Buddha told Shariputra, “Good indeed, good indeed! It is just as you say.”

“Shariputra, the Thus Come One is also like this in that he is a father to all in the world. He has forever ended all fear, weakness, worry, ignorance and obscurity. He has completely realized the limitless Knowledge and Vision, Powers, and Fearlessnesses. He has great spiritual might and the power of wisdom. He has perfected the paramitas of expedients and wisdom.

He is greatly kind and compassionate. Never tiring, he ever seeks the good, benefiting all. Thus he is born in the Three Realms which are like a burning house in order to save living beings from the fires of birth, old age, sickness, death, grief, misery, stupidity, dullness, and the three poisons. He teaches and transforms them, leading them to the attainment of Anuttarasamyaksambodhi.”

“He sees all living beings are scorched by birth, old age, sickness, death, grief, and misery. They undergo various sufferings, because of the Five Desires, wealth and profit. Further, because of their clinging and grasping, they presently undergo a mass of sufferings and in the future will undergo sufferings in the hells, among the animals, or hungry ghosts. If born in the heavens or among human beings, they will suffer poverty and distress, the suffering of being separated from what one loves, the suffering of being joined together with what one hates, and all the various sufferings such as these.

However, living beings sunk in morass, joyfully sport, unaware, unknowing, unalarmed and unafraid. They do not grow satiated nor do they seek liberation. In the burning house of the Three Realms, they run about from east to west. Although they encounter tremendous sufferings, they are not concerned.”

“Shariputra, having seen this, the Buddha further thinks, ‘I am the father of living beings. I should rescue them from these sufferings and difficulties, and give them the limitless and boundless joy of the Buddha-wisdom to play with.’”

“Shariputra, the Thus Come One further thinks, ‘If I merely use spiritual power and the power of wisdom, and cast aside expedients, praising for all living beings the power of the Thus Come One’s Knowledge and Vision, Powers, and Fearlessnesses, living beings will not be able to be saved in this way. Why is this? All of these living beings have not yet escaped birth, old age, sickness, death, grief and misery. They are being scorched in the burning house of the Three Realms. How could they understand the wisdom of the Buddha?’”

“ Shariputra, just as that Elder, although he had a powerful body and arms, did not use them, but merely applied expedients with diligence to save all the children from disaster in the burning house, and afterwards gave to each of them a great cart adorned with precious jewels, in the same way, the Thus Come One, although he has powers and fearlessnesses, does not use them.”

“He merely uses wisdom and expedients to rescue living beings from the burning house of the Three Realms, speaking to them of Three Vehicles: those of Hearer, Pratyeka Buddha, and Buddha.”

“And he says to them, ‘All of you should take no pleasure in dwelling in the burning house of the Three Realms. Do not lust after vulgar and evil forms, sounds, smells, tastes and tangible objects. If you attach to them greedily and give rise to love for them, you will be burnt. You should quickly escape the Three Realms and attain the Three Vehicles: the Hearer, Pratyeka Buddha, and Buddha Vehicles.’”

“I now give my Pledge for this and it shall never be proved false. You need only diligently and vigorously cultivate. The Thus Come One using these expedient means leads all living beings.”

“He further says, ‘You should all know that the Dharmas of the Three Vehicles have been praised by the sages. They will make you free, unbound, and self-reliant. Riding on these Three Vehicles, by means of non-outflow roots, powers, enlightenments, ways, dhyanas, concentrations, liberations, samadhis, and so on, you shall amuse yourselves and attain limitless peace and joy.’”

“Shariputra, if there are living beings who inwardly posses the wisdom-nature, and hearing the Dharma from the Buddha, the World Honored One, believed and accepted it, diligently making progress, wishing quickly to escape the Three Realms and seeking Nirvana for themselves, they are called those of the Hearer Vehicle. They are like the children who sought the sheep carts and thereby escaped from the burning house.”

“If there are living beings who hearing the Dharma from the Buddha, the World Honored One, believed and accepted it, diligently making progress, and who seek for themselves Spontaneous Wisdom, delighting in solitude and fond of stillness, deeply understanding the causal conditions of all dharmas; they are called those of the Pratyeka Buddha Vehicle. They are like the children who sought the deer carts and so escaped from the burning house.”

“If there are living beings who hearing the Dharma from the Buddha, the World Honored One, believed and accepted it, earnestly cultivating with vigor, seeking All-wisdom, Buddha-wisdom, Spontaneous Wisdom, Untutored Wisdom, the Knowledge and Vision of the Thus Come One, his Powers and Fearlessnesses, pitying and comforting limitless living beings, benefiting gods and humans, saving all, they are called those of the Great Vehicle. Because the Bodhisattvas seek this vehicle, they are called Mahasattvas. They are like the children who sought the ox carts and so escaped from the burning house.”

“Shariputra, just as that Elder, seeing all his children safely escape the burning house to a place of fearlessness, and considering his own unlimited wealth, give to all of his children great carts.”

“The Thus Come One, in the same way, is the father of all living beings. When he sees limitless kotis of living beings using the gateway of the Buddha’s teaching to get off the fearsome and dangerous path of the sufferings of the Three Realms and attain the bliss of Nirvana, he has this thought, ‘I have limitless and boundless wisdom, powers, fearlessnesses and so on--the complete storehouse of the Buddhadharma.

All of these living beings are my children. I should give to all of them great carts, not allowing them to gain individual Quiescence, but crossing them over to Quiescence by means of the Thus Come One’s Quiescence. Having escaped the Three Realms, all these living beings are given as playthings the Buddha’s Dhyana Samadhis, Liberations, and so forth, all of one mark and one kind, praised by the sages and productive of pure, wondrous, and foremost bliss.’”

“Shariputra, just as that Elder first having used the three carts to entice his children and then later having given them great carts adorned with jewels and supremely comfortable, is not guilty of falsehood, just so is the Thus Come One likewise not guilty of falsehood in first speaking of the Three Vehicles to entice living beings and then afterwards delivering them only by means of the Great Vehicle. What is the reason?

The Thus Come One has limitless wisdom, powers and fearlessnesses, a storehouse of Dharmas, and is able to give to all living beings the Great Vehicle Dharma. Not all living beings, however, are able to accept it. Shariputra, because of these causes and conditions, you should know that the Buddhas, using the power of expedient devices, in the One Buddha Vehicle, discriminate and speak of three.”

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